Trending: Call for Papers Volume 4 | Issue 3: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]

Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) : Shortcomings and Mode of Strengthening

-Aradhaya Singh



Initially if we go through there are two major categories of weapons present in the universe that is the Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW). These are little acknowledged despite the far flung use of chemical weapons (CW) in the First World War in 1914 and in more recent times in the Iraq/Iran war happened in 1980’s. Biological Weapons (BW) are also even less acknowledged. Since when in 1990-91 when there was a threat that Iraq might use BW against the coalition forces in the Gulf conflict there has been increased public awareness about various diseases. They were heightened by the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Zaire.

Both of these weapons chemical and biological weapons as the name suggests are the harness of chemical or biological substances to cause harm and destruction to mankind most primarily to all the human beings of the universe. Biological weapons applies to the causing of harm to animals and plants present in the universe. They are injected or disseminated as a cloud of vapour or as fine little particles in the form of aerosols in the air.

To cope up with this, Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) also known as convention or treaty of 1972 was made. Now we will study about this further here in this article.


Biological Weapons Convention or BWC is a convention which effectively interdicts the development, production accession, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons in the countries. BWC was formally known as “ The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction”.(1) This BWC was negotiated by the Conference of the committee on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland. It was opened for signature on 10th April 1972 and came into force on 26th March 1975. It has established a strong norm against the use of Biological Weapons. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the USA serve now as the three Depository Governments of the BWC. The main role played by these Depository Governments is that they carry out various functions such as they carry out various functions like they receive official instruments from the other governments of different countries relating to membership of the BWC.

If we go through, the 1925 Geneva Protocol (2)  banned the use of chemical and biological weapons. It was the first multilateral disarmament treaty which bans an entire category of weapons of mass as biological warfare uses pathogenic agents like bacteria and viruses to infect and kill or incapacitate the whole population. There are major debates over how well they work as weapons, but the risks are very large. The BWC is a key element in the international community’s to address Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation and has established a strong norm against biological weapons.

The convention is comparatively short and comprises of only 15 Articles and the full text of Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) (3)can be seen in the Annexure provided. The convention’s provisions have been elaborated in precise way by a series of additional agreements and understanding at Review Conferences which have been organized so far every five years. First Review Conference was conducted in 1980.


  • forbids States Parties from developing, producing, stockpiling, or otherwise acquiring biological agents or toxins that have no justification for peaceful or defensive purposes (4)
  • forbids States Parties from developing, producing, stockpiling, or otherwise acquiring equipment to deliver biological agents or toxins for hostile purposes (5)
  • obligates States Parties to destroy or divert to peaceful purposes their existing stocks of prohibited items; (6)
  • forbids States Parties from transferring prohibited items to anyone or otherwise helping in the manufacture or acquisition of biological weapons; (7)
  • protects the rights of States Parties to exchange equipment, materials, and scientific and technological information for peaceful purposes in order to avoid hampering their economic and technological development; (8)
  • commits States Parties to cooperate in solving any problems through consultation and in carrying out any investigation initiated by the UN Security Council; and (9)
  • commits States Parties to provide assistance to others that have been attacked using biological weapons. (10)

These are the things which the Biological Weapons Convention BWC forbids in its documents.


If we go through the history of Biological Weapons Convention we would be able to find more things about. The use of Biological Weapons is not new to the universe. It has been there since the 1300s and it can be seen since 1346.

The use of biological weapons dates back to as early as 1346, when the Mongols catapulted corpses contaminated with plague over the walls of the Crimean city of Kaffa. The legal framework banning both chemical and biological warfare began to develop 500 years later, in the late 19th century. The 1899 Hague Convention 11 with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land declared that it is “especially prohibited…to employ poison or poisoned arms.” Nevertheless, chemical weapons (which are quite different than biological weapons) were used extensively during World War I by several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France. On a much smaller scale, biological weapons were used during the war by German agents who attempted to infect livestock destined for the Allied forces.

After the war, France proposed at the  Geneva Conference for the Supervision of the International Trade in Arms and Ammunition (12)in 1925 that the use of lethal and virulent gases should be banned by a law (a protocol). Poland suggested that bacteriological (biological) weapons also be included. The conference adopted a Convention for the Supervision of the International Trade in Arms, Munitions and Implements of War (13)(which has not entered into force) and, as a separate document, a Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare 14The agreement, known as the Geneva Protocol 15 was signed in Geneva on June 17, 1925. Upon ratification or accession to the Protocol, some States declared that it would cease to be binding on them if their enemies, or the allies of their enemies, failed to respect the prohibitions of the Protocol. In recent years, however, many of the reservations have been withdrawn, especially following the entry into force of the BTWC and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). (16)

Movement towards biological disarmament began in earnest in 1969 when the British presented the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Conference (ENDC) 17 with a draft convention calling for the elimination of biological warfare. With this proposal, the British were taking a new approach to biological disarmament by separating biological and chemical weapons within an international agreement. The British draft contained a prohibition of the production and acquisition of biological agents in types and quantities that had no justification for peaceful purposes and equipment designed for hostile purposes.

The United Nations adopted a resolution commending the text and the BWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972. The BWC entered into force two years later, on March 26, 1975, after 22 states had joined (signed and ratified) the Convention.


Everything has its own importance. So is the case with BWC. Biological weapons can be used not only to attack humans, but also to cattle and crops of the universe. The diseases could spread rapidly around the world because of these weapons. Although of natural origin, the 2020 ‘Corona Virus’ or Covid-19 pandemic outbreak started in China and then its spread to other countries including USA, UK, India etc. can widely be seen as showing the lack of preparedness in the global health and humanitarian system to respond to larger scale disease outbreaks like all the countries are facing at an international level. It also sent an alarming message about the dramatic consequences that could be caused through the deliberated release of biological agents or toxins by state or non- state actors. As we can see that people are losing their lives in large numbers due to Covid-19 pandemic and also economic consequences can also be seen.

All states are therefore facing a devastating loss and at risk, and all can benefit from joining the Biological Weapons Convention BWC.

The 21st century has been called as an era or age of technology and biotechnology. Advances in this biotechnology and life sciences are occurring at an accelerating pace. While such developments and changes bring unparalleled benefits while on the other side, they are misused due to the inherent dual use nature of life sciences. Therefore, BWC state parties should pay attention to these new trends in science and technology. As this could be a threat to mankind at larger level. BWC also helps to build capacity to respond to disease outbreak like the present Covid- 19 Pandemic and can assist each other in developing capacities in areas such as disease surveillance, detection and diagnosis, biosafety and biosecurity, education, training, awareness, legal, emergency and other measures.


Last but not the least, it can be concluded that an international level, an organisation is to be constructed and all the countries must join the Biological Weapons Convention (BCW) to cope up with such havoc causing situation in present and future.




(3)    www.opbw.org

(4)    www.opbw.org

(5)    https://www.unog.ch/bwc

(6)    www.acronym.org.uk

(7)    http://www.unog.ch/bwc

(8)    http://www.unog.ch/bwc

(9)     http://www.unog.ch/BWC

(10)  www.nti.org/analysis/articles/biological-weapons-convention/

(11)  www.britannica.com

(12)  https://armscontrol.org

(13)  www.britannica.com

(14)  http://www.unog.ch/bwc

(15)  https://www.un.org


(17)  http://www.unog.ch/bwc


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